Five Things to Know About Living Like a Supreme Court Justice
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Today’s offering: five things to know about living like a Supreme Court Justice.
August is the glorious month when temperatures soar, the French take vacation, and Supreme Court justices descend from their Beaux-Arts marble palace to walk among mere mortals. The Nine have been rather chatty lately about what makes the Supreme Court work, why it’s the best branch of government — and just a bit about what they are doing on their summer vacations.
So, it is time to ask WWJD? What would justices do?
- The word of the day is "collegiality." Justice Stephen Breyer recently lamented the lack of civility in Washington in a speech before the American Bar Association. Unlike members of Congress, Justice Breyer claims that the Supreme Court justices are courteous to one another even in the face of disagreements. We suspect he may be telling the truth; Justice Elena Kagan made a similar observation previously at the Aspen Institute. (If justices don't even haze newbies, maybe everything really is sunshine and rainbows on the big bench.)
- The anti-social network. Justice Breyer may use Facebook and Twitter to keep tabs on his family, but the Supreme Court as a whole stays away from social media. Justice Breyer told a Congressional panel earlier this year that he refuses followers on the micro-blogging website because justices must, "resist the temptation to publicize themselves, because we really speak for the law." Chief Justice John Roberts discourages tweeting even among SCOTUS clerks to prevent accidental revelations from within the Court.
- Two of a mind? While much has been made of the two Supreme Court pairs with nearly identical voting records - Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito voted together in 96 percent of cases, while Justice Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted together in 94 percent of the time - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says unanimous decisions are actually common within the Court. Last year the court agreed unanimously on bottom-line judgments (33 cases) more than twice as many times as it was sharply divided (16 cases).
- Hit the road. Whether RV camping in Walmart parking lots, (Justice Clarence Thomas), or teaching in Europe, (Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Antonin Scalia), justices like to travel for the summer.
- Ask the important questions. Where is the 9,000 foot cow? What did James Madison think of video games? What do you think of Satan? The Nine know how to extract the answers to life's great questions during oral arguments. Almost as important as the questions they ask is the enthusiasm with which they present the answers. Our favorite from the last term? Justice Kagan's announced the opinion in Smith v. Bayer Corp. saying, "If you understand anything I say here, you will likely be a lawyer, and you will have had your morning cup of coffee."